Last week, in my review of Gotham‘s fifth episode, the somewhat schizophrenic “Viper”, I made the comment that Gotham, as a totally different kind of comic book inspired tv series, needs to do one of two things to be successful: It has to either show us something we’ve never seen before, or show us something we’ve seen before in a new way.
The best part of “Viper” was when it explored Gotham‘s fresh new take on the classic Mob War premise….this week, we get to see how the series handles another oldie but goodie: The serial killer.
That blurry mirror shot from a YouTube vid was the only pic I could find of the killer known to the Gotham news media as “The Gotham Goat” (apparently, before Batman came on the scene–Gotham City was utterly lousy at naming costumed villains and vigilantes). Ten years ago the Goat terrorized Gotham’s elite, ritualistically murdering the first born children of the richest and most powerful Gothamites, before being brought down by a younger, less jaded Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) and his old partner Dix (the great Dan Hedaya of Addams Family and Clueless fame).
(BONUS TRIVIA: The word “Gotham” is Old English for “home of the goats”….no, seriously)
Unfortunately, in the process of killing the Goat Dix was paralyzed, which Bullock seems to blame himself for (to the point that he pays his old partner’s bills and medical costs, he even covers his porn subscriptions). This is likely at least partially why Bullock became the nihilistic, misanthropic bastard we know and love….
And gives us a little insight into why he resents Gordon (Ben McKenzie) so much–because he’s who Bullock used to be, and Bullock knows what happens to Jim Gordons in Gotham–they turn into Harvey Bullocks….if they live long enough, but more on that note later.
And now, 10 years since the Goat was killed, a murder using his exact M.O. occurs–right down to precise details that were kept secret by the GCPD, details only the Goat could know.
Is the Goat somehow back from the dead? Is there a copycat on the loose? Did he have an accomplice unknown to the police?
Surprisingly, the answer is NONE of these–but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There’s a lot of little things going on in this episode: It’s not the overwritten jumble of plots the first two episodes were, nor is it two separate (and unequal) stories occurring simultaneously as in last week’s show. Rather, we have one central plot, and a lot of ancillary scenes used to break up the main story. In all honesty, it’s these minor subplots that contain Spirit of the Goat’s strongest and most enjoyable moments. The central plot isn’t bad, but it would not have been able to carry the entire episode on its own.
You might say that these ancillary plots are included to distract the viewer from the holes and weaknesses in the main story–though that’s a bit cynical for my taste.
Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) has more screentime in this episode than in the past 5 put together, mostly involving his awkward, creepy, yet surprisingly endearing attempts to flirt with a GCPD file clerk: The improbably named Kristen Kringle (whom for some reason IMDB does not think exists–I can’t find the actress’ name anywhere). I’m intrigued by Ms. Kringle–just as Nygma is–and I have a hunch there is more to her….
A lot of reviewers do not share my affection for Gotham‘s take on pre-Riddler Nygma, claiming he comes off as too broad, and too kooky to be taken seriously as a police forensic investigator.
I’ll say what I said in response to similar objections made about Fish Mooney: Gotham is an over-the-top setting, and it needs over-the-top characters. It has more than enough grounded, realistic personalities like Jim Gordon or Alfred Pennyworth–characters that keep Gotham from slipping into pure comic book kitsch–it can afford some zanies and larger than life individuals, otherwise it’s just another TV crime drama.
Nygma shows a different side of the “before they were villains” trope. Take Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor): He was ALWAYS a villain–only scope separates Cobblepot from Penguin. When we meet him, he was already henchman to one of Gotham’s most powerful criminals, and in the last 5 episodes he’s killed enough people to start a baseball team. If there was ever a time when Cobblepot was redeemable, it was long before Gotham‘s first episode.
On the other hand, if we didn’t already know who Edward Nygma is, and who he’s going to become, we COULD dismiss him as a little creepy–possibly even obsessive–but probably just a harmless weirdo.
Even knowing his future, we can still feel for Nygma on occasion: He re-organizes the file room at the police station where Miss Kringle works–and it’s clear he thinks this is the most wonderful thing anyone has ever done for anyone in the history of the world–his pride is palpable–and more than a little sad…..and he is utterly baffled when Miss Kringle does not appreciate his gesture. He’s not angry or resentful–just very confused.
Nygma looks to me like he’s suffering from an autism-spectrum disorder, like Asperger’s Syndrome: The world he sees in his mind is not the same one the rest of us live in. Earlier in the show he tries to tell Bullock a riddle at the scene of the “new” Goat’s first murder. Bullock doesn’t like Nygma at the best of times, so he’s even less willing to tolerate him while investigating a crime committed by a killer that he shot 10 years ago….and Nygma, again, is totally confused by the brush-off he gets…these riddles and thought puzzles are important to him, and he doesn’t understand why no one else can see it.
Nygma is the pre-villain who is not beyond hope when we first meet him. Had he received treatment or counseling sooner, there may never have been a Riddler.
Meanwhile, Jim and Barbara (Erin Richards) have patched things up, and he has promised to keep her in the loop regarding his work and the dangers he faces. Unfortunately, he’s not going to get a chance to tell her about the return of the Goat, because our good friends at the MCU–Montoya and Allen (Victoria Cartagena and Andrew Stewart-Jones)–just got eyewitness testimony from some homeless guy who lives on the pier where Gordon “shot” Oswald Cobblepot, and they arrest him right at the station (I’ll get back to this).
Back at Wayne Manor, Bruce (David Mazouz) is undaunted by media reports of rich folks heading for the hills while the new and improved Goat is on the prowl–as he says, he has work to do, and given that he’s the only one still investigating his parents’ murder, there’s a lot to cover.
There’s a strange little scene where Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) sneaks into Wayne Manor (though why a window would be open while a killer of rich people’s children is on the loose is beyond me) and steals something from Bruce’s desk. What exactly she took or why is not certain, but she has an odd fixation on Bruce, which I’m hoping Gotham intends to expand on.
Oswald Cobblepot’s scenes are few, but memorable. He returns home to his dear old mother (the incomparable Carol Kane once again). Most of their scenes together involve Oswald fuming about how people like Fish Mooney have treated him, his “big plans” for the future, and–oddly enough–his trust and admiration for Jim Gordon, which sounds almost like a crush the way he puts it.
And dear, sweet, daffy old Gertrude Kapelput swallows it all. She’s a nice old lady, and she loves her son like one would expect.
Though it’s time to stop bathing your child when he’s about 5…maybe 6 if he’s slow–just sayin’.
Anyway, after a few Freudian scenes, Oswald shows up at the station JUST as Gordon is being arrested for murdering him (how he timed this just right I don’t know).
So the good news is Gordon’s not going to prison for murder, seeing as how his victim ain’t dead….Unfortunately, now Bullock, the GCPD, and before long the Falcone syndicate will know that Gordon didn’t shoot Oswald like he was ordered to…
Which basically means all the most powerful and dangerous people in Gotham want Detective Gordon’s head on a pike.
And just when things were starting to look up for Jimmy boy….
In summary, “Spirit of the Goat” is a solid episode. The serial killer angle is handled like a police procedural show, not like a superhero show. It’s believable, and the reveal makes up for what looked like flaws and holes in the killer’s motives. It’ll annoy you for a bit, but it will all make sense in the end.
And if the inconsistencies of the main story are too much for you to overlook, the side plots have more than enough to keep viewers enthralled–mostly due to the superlative writing skills of Ben Edlund, best known for his work on Supernatural and Firefly.
I’m looking forward to getting back to Team Falcone vs. Team Maroni, but this made for a nice break.